Hi, fellow literature freaks!
I’m only four chapters away from finishing Great Expectations, and, in anticipation of next week’s work, I’ve already read the introduction to The Odyssey. And that will be today’s topic.
While I was reading this insightful introduction by G.S Kirk, I encountered a few things that I knew of, mainly relating to the development of the plot in the book. However, it also spoke of different debates around both the Odyssey and the Iliad that I hadn’t heard before. The most interesting one, in my opinion, was wether these two books have been “written” by the same author or by the same author but at different times. Notice I put the quotation marks because authorship (and written word, in a slightly different way) in those times held a different meaning than they do today, and Homer is believed to have compiled the epic poems that conform both books from oral tradition, with a few touches here and there.
Now, the debate laid upon the foundations that The Iliad, while putting somehow the accent on Achilles, was more focused in war, violence, and a sort of abstract but universal concepts, while The Odyssey puts entirely the accent on Odysseus, its hero (as we can see already in its title), and shows his personal qualities and adequacies instead of more universal concepts. It is believed that Homer could have compiled the two works, but at different times of his life, thus the fact that the latter looks “milder” or focuses on human nature more than “abstract concepts” (as war, violence, win, loss…). It also implies that Homer could have had a more active role than mere compiler.
What I found more interesting of the debate is the fact that the figure of the author, still in times when written word and authorship seemed less important than oral tradition, could cling to its own changing throughout life, and thus, the “author” doesn’t write (and think) the same way when he’s 15, 35 and 55. It never occurred to me that this could be possible even for Ancient Greece authors, where one tends to think of long beards, long questions and eternal dialogues (and monologues). It’s easy to think that the same questions that today puzzle us, didn’t puzzle them (or not in the same way), until one reaches the understanding that certain questions have been in the human mind since the beginning of time, and in fact, these questions form a great deal of the most relevant philosophical topics of all times. Realizing all this also helps a lot in visualizing the ancient author as, after all, a human being, and not the all-mighty demiurge most textbooks depict.
All in all, that’s why books like The Odyssey and The Iliad still resonate with us a lot, even when the historical, social, political contexts are much more different. They still have the invaluable quality we search in books of bringing eternal questions to our minds, they make us think of the world and of ourselves with the same interest a human being in Ancient Greece could feel when he saw a poet reciting these same poems in the agora.